Sunday, January 6, 2008

Calvin Post-Hobbes

I was one of many people who enjoyed reading the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. When I was younger, I used to look at Hobbes as a magical entity that was only revealed to Calvin. After reading through a bunch of volumes of the comic recently (and enjoying it so), I had a hard time looking at Hobbes the same way, and instead viewed each comic through the lens that Hobbes was all in Calvin's imagination. It's the "adult" way to look at it, I suppose.

As I was reading (and like I said, enjoying), I couldn't help but notice many serious problems with Calvin. I am not a big fan of socio-political analyses of art and entertainment, as that is best left for academics and politicos and other people no one likes. However, I think that kind of analysis can be enjoyable when it's done for fun, and the following is done in that spirt.

Calvin is a six year old child with no siblings and two, still married Caucasian parents. Calvin's father is a patent attorney that earns enough money to have a nice house in the outer suburbs (or the exurbs?). He works in a large firm in a midwestern city, most probably Cleveland but maybe Cincinnati or Pittsburgh. Calvin's father is not particularly close to his son. He doesn't like to take Calvin's calls during the day while at work, and when home, he spends his time reading, cycling, or doing some outdoor activity, preferring not to be interrupted by Calvin. Very rarely does he take the time to play with Calvin, except to force him to play baseball, something Calvin hates to do.

Calvin's mother also spends little time with Calvin, preferring to spend her time in the garden or with a book, although she does engage in some motherly activties. She will also do some special things for Calvin, like making him costumes and such, and it appears Calvin appreciates these gestures, for the most part. On the other hand, Calvin does not appreciate any of his mother's homecooked meals.

The other adult-like figure in Calvin's life is his babysitter, Rosalyn, who is woefully underpaid even by 1980s dollars, especially considering how much money Calvin's dad undoubtably makes. As much grief as Calvin gives his parents with his misbehavior, for Rosalyn he is excruciatingly difficult to deal with, causing serious problems such as running away or locking her out of the residence.

Calvin's upper middle class neighborhood and school appear to be overwhelmingly white. I don't recall any minorities ever appearing in the strip, unless you want to count the possibly homosexual Uncle Max's one time appearance. Not only does Calvin not interact with minorities of any sort, but he really doesn't have much of any exposure to culture and diversity. The only museum he enjoys is the natural history museum, and that is for the dinosaur exhibits.

Calvin does not have any friends of any sort. Calvin's best friend is an imaginary tiger. While Hobbes is often a good counterpoint to Calvin's mischievious nature and self-centered theories, Hobbes - and I stress this point - does not exist. It could be that Hobbes is actually a manifestation of Calvin's personality, perhaps even an indication of some kind of Schizophrenia. This is more disturbing than usual, because Calvin's two personalities (himself and "Hobbes") will often battle with each other. Although still "friends" after every skirmish, one wonders if this will not deteriorate with time.

Calvin's closest human companion is Susie, a girl with whom Calvin is often at odds. She is smart and friendly, but Calvin is rude towards her, and spends his time grossing her out or actually physically attacking her. The interactions between the two could possibly have long-term effects not only on Calvin's view of women but also Susie's opinion of men her own age. Calvin's behavior makes Susie reluctant to deal with others in her own right, and she too can be seen slipping into an imaginary world of tea parties with stuffed animals. Her imaginary friends are nowhere as fleshed out or "alive" as Calvin's tiger.

The only other child Calvin regularly deals with is Moe, the school bully. Moe steals Calvin's money and batters him on the playground, taking the swing Calvin is on or the ball Calvin is using. Calvin lives in fear of Moe. As for the rest of Calvin's schoolmates, they essentially ignore him or, when forced to deal with him, take exception to his subpar athletic abilities, unusual behavior (weirdness), and inferior athletic performance.

When Calvin is off the playground and in the classroom, it is clear he would rather be somewhere else, perhaps anywhere else. He has a short attention span, spends no time studying or doing homework, and clearly has problems completing assignments or passing quizzes. He gets in as much trouble at school as he does at home, often being sent to the principal's office. Miss Wormwood, his teacher, has a difficult time keeping Calvin under control.

At home, the majority of Calvin's time is spent reading comic books, eating sugary snack items like cereal and cookies (which does not help his attention and behavioral difficulties), watching television, or more often than not lost in an imaginary world, sometimes for fun and sometimes as an escape from the harshness of reality. His imagination is vivid, conjuring up vast worlds with characters including Spraceman Spiff, Stupendous Man, and Tracer Bullit. He also imagines wild inventions such as his transmogrifier. Despite his creativity, it seems suspect that, in light of his failures in school and in his social interactions, his imagination and mental artistry will serve him as he grows older. If anything, it will work only as a shell to protect him from the cruelties of his existence and to shut him out from the world.

Calvin does show some intellectual dexterity. At times, Calvin will delve into philosophy with his make believe friend Hobbes, discussing the human existence, the environment, society, etc., but Calvin does not appear to be able to translate this cleverness into success in school. He has the potential to be very cerebral, but his hyperactivity and discomfort in the classroom dwarf his progress.

Calvin has insufficient quality interaction with his parents, especially his father. He is socially malnourished, being teased and bullied by most of his peers. Susie, the only person willing to tolerate him, falls just short of being hated by Calvin. His only friend is an imaginary tiger, and as he grows older and his imagination no longer allows for pretend friends of that sort, he is going to face massive difficulties adjusting to the world. Calvin's existence is painfully isolated and blunted.

While it is always possible that Calvin could grow up and adjust, make friends, etc., he is off to a bad start in his life. He seems like a textbook case of a child that will grow up to have a World of Warcraft account and a pedophiliac pornography addiction leading to shooting five or six innocent people before taking his own life.

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